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Millennials Thumbs-Down Payless’ PR Stunt as Brand Buzz Rises Overall

Payless went to great lengths last week to set up a fake brand, crafting the name “Palessi” as a snooty nod to the official company name and throwing up a website and Instagram account to boot. The final touch saw the budget-minded mall staple taking over a former Armani store in Santa Monica to launch a “pop-up” where invited fashion influencers shopped regular old Payless shoes masquerading as designer footwear priced into the hundreds of dollars.

Influencers reportedly handed over $3,000 total in exchange for goods on display by the end of the event, though Payless returned the funds after revealing the true purpose of the pop-up experiment. Footage of the stunt became ads promoting the brand (Payless—not Palessi).

New data from YouGov Plan & Track shows the stunt largely seems to be moving the needle for the company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy 18 months ago. The number of people 18 years of age and older discussing Payless in their social networks “within the past two weeks” ticked up two points to 9 percent. That’s on top of the 6 percent increase in people who said they’d seen a Payless ad within the same timeframe.

Though the PR stunt is generating plenty of buzz, the response differs depending on consumer demographics, YouGov found. Among older consumers in the 35-to-49-year-old range, Payless’s Buzz score jumped from 5 to 20 (Buzz scores range from -100 to +100, and are compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive) from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4. However, millennials age 18 to 34 years old weren’t such fans of the prank; among this group, the Buzz score virtually disappeared, plummeting from 12 to 0 (a zero Buzz score means equal positive and negative feedback). The research firm found that overall impressions of Payless followed similar demographic trajectories, with older consumers taking a more favorable view of the brand and younger people harboring more negative feelings about the low-cost shoe company.

Millennials might be particularly sensitive to this stunt given how much they look to influencers for guidance on life and style. According to YouGov, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of younger consumers claim an endorsement from a high-profile personality holds sway over their purchasing behavior.